Feb 052010

I have been scathing about the scholars ability to judge quality in art. Let me give two of the twenty examples I might have chosen. Rembrandt made many etchings of nudes, even the best are often marred by passages that are of inferior quality. Arnold Houbraken who was a painter and a contemporary of Rembrandt’s in Amsterdam, also an admirer was also very critical of Rembrandt’s drawing on occasion – “it is very seldom one finds in Rembrandt a well painted hand”–  of his female nudes……“he has produces such pitiful things that they are hardly worth mentioning, they are invariably repellent and one can only ask oneself in amazement how a man with such talent and intelligence can be so stubborn in his choice of models.”  – . So we have been warned – Rembrandt is not always attractive.

As a student I loved Rembrandt because he did not attempt to hide this variability. It was encouraging to see that even the great Rembrandt could live with passages that I felt I could out-do myself. He started from a ground base that was not all that exceptional, in fact quite ordinary. He was most unusually truthful about this and also about what he perceived.

Woman holding 'arrow'

The Arrow Holder

Look at this etching (The Arrow Holder) that has gone through many adjustments (changes of state), the hand holding the arrow, in fact that whole arm is badly drawn. When we compare it with the arm in the preparatory drawing B1147 we find there an arm that recedes much more satisfactorily.



We can be absolutely sure that Rembrandt did the etching (he signed it on the plate) all previous scholars have accepted the drawing which although not exactly the same is clearly a preparatory drawing for the etching. (The drawing of the light on her back is identical given that one is done with a pen, the etching with a needle.) But Mr.Royalton Kisch, recently of the British Museum,  has the arrogance to reject it. In spite of Houbraken’s warning he finds the drawing “frankly indifferent”. I don’t disagree but I don’t find that reason for saying it is not by Rembrandt.

You may ask does it matter? – yes it very much matters because the style of this has been the reason for  Kisch and his friends to relieving Rembrandt of many more drawings. This is one of many preparatory drawings that have been recently rejected. The “experts” should read the early documents every day till they change their attitude. They have no conception of how they have trampled on holy ground.

The second example is much the same, only in this case the etching is  all  very poor in relation to the preparatory drawing which is a beauty and has been rejected by today’s “experts”.

Leaning Drawing

Preparatory Drawing

Etching of young man leaning

Etching of young man leaning

Look at the pose of the head, in the drawing a bony young man is seen leaning back on the wall behind (protected by a drape we see in the etching). The foreshortened features are beautifully seen but Rembrandt has lost it in the etching. The long bony face has become squashed (compare where the tip of the nose is in the drawing, it covers one eye, not so in the etching) Even allowing for the fact that Rembrandt has apparently moved further back for the etching,  the youth’s lower legs seem very stumpy there, compared with the pose in the  excellently descriptive drawing.

These new findings were all published in the catalogue for an exhibition held in The Rembrandthuis Museum in 1984-85. (They will doubtless be repeated at the forthcoming Getty exhibition) Has any art historian raised his voice against them? Not as far as I have heard. The sad truth is that art historians are not very good at judging quality. There must be 10,000 trained artists out there who can see what I am talking about. LET US HEAR FROM YOU (in the comments section). It is surely part of an artist’s duty to help preserve the visual culture,    which is now in terminal decay.

Leave a Reply